article is written by Jovic Yee, originally published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer
(I was interviewed by the writer on the meaning of martial law for millennials)
(First of two parts)
DON’T blame the millennials for people’s seeming indifference when it comes to the atrocities committed during martial law, a historian, a political analyst and two millennials cautioned on what appears to be historical amnesia that almost got another Marcos elected into high office in the May elections.
Millennials—people born from the 1980s onward—are “victims” themselves of the systemic failure of society to impart the lessons of one of the country’s darkest eras, said historian Ricardo Jose, director of the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center.
The roots of this seeming apathy and lapsed memory on martial law can, in fact, be traced to 1986, shortly after the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family were booted out of Malacañang, when then President Corazon Aquino opted to stress unity over keeping score, Jose said.
In an effort to rebuild the republic torn apart by Marcos’ nearly two-decade dictatorial rule, there appeared to have been a concerted effort to remain silent on the issue after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, he added.
“[The message was for the people] to be united (and) forget about the divisions since Marcos was abroad on exile. Cory, on her first year (as President), chose not to do any radical change just so (the nation) could be one,” he said.
It also didn’t help that textbooks used in schools since then had been found wanting in their discussion of martial law, which Marcos declared 44 years ago today.
Jose said the scarcity in materials detailing the full history of the martial law period might be due to the censorship of the press at the time, which aired and published only what then first lady Imelda Marcos described as “the true, the good and the beautiful.”
“There were only superficial references to human rights abuses (in the textbooks) and what emerged were those that were visible, projects like the Cultural Center of the Philippines, North Luzon Expressway and the like. When you look at it, there’s really no holistic history of the martial law era,” the historian said.
The fact that discussions on martial law atrocities pitted Filipino against another Filipino also proved problematic, Jose said, unlike the atrocities committed during the Japanese occupation and to some extent, the Philippine-American war.
“If it’s Filipino versus a foreign power, it’s easy because you can delineate. In fact, the difficult thing with the Japanese period was how to deal with the collaborators because these are Filipinos, and it’s hardly ever discussed,” Jose said. “When you look at the martial law period, these were top-class people, so would you say all the cronies were bad? Some of them are still alive,” he added.
Still in power
Jose said: “How do you write a decent history and put (the culprits) in their place when they’re still alive. Some of them are still in power, some are economic giants.”
Among the Marcos cronies who remains a kingmaker and economic power is Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., chair emeritus of the Nationalist People’s Coalition and chair of food and beverage conglomerate San Miguel Corp.
It was because of this “difficulty,” Jose said, that the government kept its silence because “it will bring out disturbing truths about certain families.”
Apart from the systemic failure of government to highlight the malaise that plagued martial law, Jose said the good programs initiated throughout Marcos’ two-decade rule—from the distribution of “nutribuns” to combat malnutrition to the infrastructure boom—may have clouded the views of those who lived through and experienced the era.
“[P]eople were willing to give (martial law) a chance the first couple of years …. That’s why the first few years seemed nice and calm, though there was an undercurrent of uncertainty. By 1978, it seems there was a feeling that things were not going right exactly,” Jose said.
Sense of discipline
Raymond John Naguit, 24, of University of Santo Tomas believes that it was this sense of discipline and picture of progress that millennials pine for when they praise the martial law years.
It was “unfair” to blame their generation for not learning the lessons of the dictatorship, the medicine student said, adding that “somewhere through the transition (between) generations, we failed as a society to transmit these very important lessons that should be ingrained in every Filipino’s mind.”
He himself managed to fully grasp the gravity of the martial law years only after meeting its victims and survivors, Naguit added.
Fellow millennial Renee Karunungan said her generation ended up at such crossroads in history because of the Filipinos’ forgiving nature and desire to forget the horrors they went through.
“Maybe those who experienced the horrors of martial law wanted to protect their children from the trauma. Maybe they thought the best way (to do that) was to keep silent and never retell the story. But in doing so our generation became oblivious to [what really happened],” Karunungan said.
Cycle of abuse
“[Martial law] was never part of the school curriculum so students don’t learn about it that much … It is not entirely this generation’s fault. There was a gap along the way and that is the gap we have to close,” she said, adding that a reeducation on this particular period in Philippine history was needed.
Said Naguit: “There’s no good in moving on if we do not learn from our past experience because this will just perpetuate a cycle of abuse and betrayal. This will not stop unless we discontinue tolerating it.”
He added: “Definitely, something has to be done in terms of educating the succeeding generations, and this does not only entail a revolution on how martial law is taught in schools and universities, but a deeper sense of collective appreciation of the entirety of our country’s history. We must let our history live again so its lessons do not become forgotten.”